Are Free Foods Sabotaging Your Diet?

by in Dining Out, March 20, 2012
bread basket
How much does free bread cost your diet?

Going out to eat almost always means bigger portions and more calories, but those meals may also contain hundreds of unwanted extras from “free” items that find their way to your plate. Here are 8 pitfalls to avoid.

1.    Bread  
We all know to watch out for the bread basket but it’s often hard to resist. It might help to know that each roll or slice averages 100 calories; then add another 120 for every tablespoon of olive oil. Butter only has 100 calories per tablespoon but is also higher in unhealthy fat.

2.    Chips & Salsa
While salsa won’t get you into too much trouble, the fried chips are another story. Each ounce (about 12 chips) has 140 calories and 7 grams of fat. Crunch in moderation.

3.    Free Refills
Free refills of soda and other sugary beverages may seem like a bargain, but your waistline is paying the price. Each 16-fluid-ounce serving of soda has 130 calories. Watch out at diners too – coffee alone is low in calories but added cream and sugar will make each cup count.

4.    Pickles
Who doesn’t love a big crunchy pickle along with a deli sandwich? If you have high blood pressure you might want to think twice. Along with those salty cold cuts comes another 400-plus milligrams of sodium from each pickle – that’s 17% of the daily recommendation.

5.    Fried Wontons
As if take-out Chinese food wasn’t high-cal enough. Sit down and munch on deep-fried wonton chips and duck sauce and you’ll add 45 calories and 3 grams of fat (per chip!) and another 60 calories (per ¼ cup) of sugary dipping sauce.

6.    Popcorn
Does your favorite pub welcome you with a basket of warm and crunchy popcorn at the table? The oil-popped variety (from those old-fashioned machines) has 55 calories and 3 grams of fat per cup.

7.    Bar Snacks
It’s just too easy to mindlessly munch on salty nuts and snack mixes, especially if you’re having a cocktail or two. A large handful of mixed nuts (about ½ cup) has over 400 calories and 35 grams of fat. Most snack mixes aren’t much better (about 300 calories and 15 grams of fat). Another concern is food safety – how fresh are those bar snacks?

8.    Candy Dish
You’ll find them everywhere from the bank teller to the local manicure joint: Overflowing dishes of sugary confections wrapped up like presents. Hard candies and lollipops will cost you about 25 to 50 calories each, while the chocolate treats will go up from there. Passing on that 50 calories each day would save you 18,250 calories a year – that’s more than 5 pounds! Just some food for thought.

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Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »

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